2005 Blog

I have been keeping a “running log” of design ideas for the year’s display.  Here is the log for the 2005 display.  It will be updated throughout the season, until the end of the 2005 lighting season.  The newest comments will be appended to the end of the log.

2/17/05:  Well, I suppose it’s time for a new entry!  I’ve been taking some much needed time off from the display, mentally and for the most part physically.  Other than a few stakes frozen in the ground, the display is completely down (thanks to a couple warm weekends in early February), tested and repaired, and mostly packed away, although I have a little work yet in that department.

I’m really not sure what direction I’m going to take the display for 2005.  I don’t have any large plans, although like I alluded to in the 2004 log I’d like to do something mechanically animated, like a Ferris wheel.  We shall see.

Didn’t pick up anything to exciting on the after-Christmas sales other than some cheap mini lights.  Always need to have those for replacements and future projects, so it’s best to stock up rather than have to pay full price in the future…

5/4/05:  Well it’s May already.  Haven’t done too much on the Christmas front at all, other than to prepare for the classes I’ll be teaching at the PLUS 2005 conference this July in Pigeon Forge, TN.  I’ll be teaching a class on Light-O-Rama and a general class on display setup and troubleshooting techniques.

I’m still looking for inspiration to hit on how to make our display special this year.  We definitely don’t want to scale up in terms of size/number of lights.  I’m considering rethinking the way we reprogram the light show, as in styles of music, etc. but we have dozens of hours invested in the current programming so throwing it all out would require a large investment in time.  On the other hand, I can’t use the same music forever, and I’d like to try some different styles other than the “flashy” technique we’ve been using for two seasons now.  In reality, we’ll probably use some of the old programming with some other brand new sequences to give the display a blended look.

It’s really hard to think about Christmas when it’s finally greening up here in Minnesota!

7/27/05:  We just started building a new deck, so I’ve had little time to think about Christmas.  However, the next few entries will be from the PLUS 2005 conference for lighting enthusiasts, held in Pigeon Forge, TN.  This is the same conference we attended in 2003, and met many friends that we correspond with via the internet.  This year I’ll be teaching two classes:  One on Christmas lighting basics, and a second on Light-O-Rama, which is the system we used to computerize our display (actually it was PLUS 2003 that introduced us to LOR).

7/28/05:  Well, we’ve arrived in Pigeon Forge!  But like they say, getting there is half the fun. In this case, maybe not half the fun, but since this is our family vacation for 2005, as well as our PLUS trip, we wanted to make sure the trip was special.

We left very early yesterday morning, with the car packed with all the necessities needed for toting two adults and a 10-month old across the country (read: way too much stuff). The drive went well through Iowa Illinois, and half of Indiana, but then things went south (and not just the direction we were driving!) To make a very long story shorter, they closed the freeway due to a major accident, the backroads we took as an alternate had a train stalled on the tracks for some reason (we finally found a bridge over the tracks after driving around for about 20 minutes) and then once back on the freeway, road construction delays forced us to bail off to back roads once again.

But we finally got to our Wednesday destination: the home of some friends that live near Fort Knox, southwest of Louisville. We spent the evening and this morning with them (got a great tour of the base and the Patton museum, unfortunately no samples of gold bullion), then we were on our way again. We decided to take the long, scenic route through southern Kentucky and the Cumberland Gap. Very very pretty, but slow going. We had hoped to make it into PF by 7pm but didn’t make it in until about 8:15pm.

Not a problem, though — we made it in time to get registered, pick up our goodie bags (with some very cool stuff in them!), meet a few folks, and even get a sneak peak at the vendor room. Let’s just say that I’m going to have to lock up my money and cards in the hotel safe if I’m going to walk through that vendor area this weekend!

Anyway, now we’re back in the hotel room. Tomorrow will be a busy day — getting up early to attend an instructors meeting, then teach my first of two classes at 8:30AM (my second class is also tomorrow afternoon). That will get my teaching commitment out of the way so the rest of the time I can just learn, have fun, and Party On!

7/29/05:  Well, it’s been a great day! We got up early (5:30) to make sure we were prepared for my first teaching class, which started at 8:30, right after the PLUS opening ceremonies. My LOR class was very full — I think around 90 had signed up for it and the large room was quite full. I did my presentation, followed by the LOR software demo, and it was a good group, asking a good amount of questions which was nice because it showed they were interested and listening. I think the class went well, and I had some good feedback afterward so that makes me happy — I’m not used to presenting in front of such large groups!

After LOR-101 was my free time in the vendor room. What a splendid place — most of the booths were of course sporting Christmas decor, with a couple different wireframe dealers, a huge inflatables area, and all sorts of goodies (including a Light-O-Rama Charlie McCarthy doll!) Oh if I could only win the lottery and buy everything on display. Funny thing is, I probably need to buy a lottery ticket before worrying about such things…

I also taught the Christmas Lighting Basics class. This class dealt with troubleshooting techniques, electrical power distribution, and problem solving regarding Christmas displays. The class was fuller than I expected, and it was a good, interactive group.

Immediately following this was Greg Young and Marty Slack’s presentation on FM broadcasting and dealing with the media. I’ve been using an FM transmitter for 3 years now and still learned a lot from Greg’s portion– particularly the legalities and antenna design. I found out I really need to redesign my antenna, and it’s cheap and easy, and should clean up my signal and keep my range legal. Marty’s segment on media attention was also very good. It covered aspects of how to get media coverage, what to do when the media comes, and how to deal with negative publicity. Chuck led a similar segment in 2003 but it’s always good to hear this from different perspectives, and frankly we’re in a different place with our display media-wise than we were two years ago and so I listened with a different focus. Last season marked my first “on-camera” interviews, which I wasn’t all that happy with. Marty’s tips will come in very happy when the cameras come around again in the future.

8/10/05: Well, we’re back from PLUS and the vacation we took following it.  It was a great time.  We picked up a couple small display items (we could have really went crazy if we wanted to) and learned a ton.  Now I have to get back to building our new deck, which is only partially complete at this time.  So much to do…

11/1/05: This has been a strange year display planning-wise.  For starters, it’s our first year with our son William (born September of last year) and he takes up a lot of my time (which is something I enjoy, of course).  Secondly, the deck project we took on this summer took longer than I expected — partly because I underestimated it, and partly because we had our vacation and several other weekend’s away in the middle of it.  It’s now finished — we love it — but it was hard to jump into more hard-core projects after (or during!) that.  Finally, for the first time in awhile, I lacked inspiration as to where to take the display this year.  Usually, toward the beginning of the year (sometimes even while putting up the previous year’s display) I have an ‘inspiration’ for the coming year.  This year I was pretty dry.  We know we don’t want to expand the display in terms of scope to any significant degree — the past two years have been large “growing years” and saw us more than double our light count (which I don’t even care about, but it’s a measure of scope).  Setup and teardown already takes more time than I like.  So it’s hard to know what ‘new’ thing to do.  At one point I even considered not doing a display this year and using the time to recharge my batteries, hopefully to come fresh for next year.  But this is the first Christmas William will really appreciate the lights, and we’ve had dozens of people approach us about looking forward to the display coming up…  So we decided to do a display.  It will be similar to last year’s display.  I’ll try to do a new musical sequence or two, and we have a few small items that are new we will work in.  As is typical, I’ll spend the first part of November putting up the “less noticeable” stuff like icicle lights and lights in trees, and save the larger displays for right before Thanksgiving.

11/19/05: Display progress is going very well!  As of today we have about 95% of the display outside.  I took yesterday off of work, and the weather has cooperated nicely.  I’ll also be taking Monday off of work so I will hopefully be ready.  I’m calling December 1 the official “lights on date” but I’ll probably “soft open” (to borrow a Disney term) a few nights before.  The biggest remaining tasks are to complete all the wiring (a big job when you do computer control like we do).  A number of small items still need to be placed, including a few that need some repairs.  Finally, I’m working on a new LOR sequence, and will maybe even be brave and do a second one.  I’m finally getting excited about the display for the first time all year!

12/19/05:  Finally another entry!  The display has been up and running, and basically working very well.  We’ve had a number of smallish technical glitches that have been worked out for the most part.  The biggest problem is the amount of snow we recently got.  It’s partway buried some of the displays, totally buried one of or FM radio signs, and the city’s plowing blocked almost the entire lower rung of our 200′ long lighted fence.  But in general, snow makes the display look very nice, so I guess it’s OK.

One of the families in the neighborhood surprised us by delivering a new 12′ inflatable snowman, as a thank-you gift for doing the display.  We just got him installed yesterday in the back yard.  He’s HUGE, and can be easily seen from the road across the pond.

Sorry that I haven’t taken any pictures yet or updated this site with them.  I’ve been REALLY busy this season with some music gigs, and what that’s not happening, the weather just hasn’t cooperated.  I’ll get things updated eventually…

12/30/05:  Ah, the display season is almost over.  Today we got some more snow — just when I thought maintenance on the display was winding down.  In case you missed them, we have lots of pictures and videos of our 2005 display up on this site now. I’ve been surprised that we’ve still been getting steady stream of viewers the last few nights — usually after Christmas it drops off pretty significantly.  It certainly isn’t busy, but steady.  We’ve also gotten a steady stream of nice comments from display visitors via email and in person (in addition to the surprise gift mentioned above).  It’s nice to know that most people appreciate the display and all the work that goes into it.

This website, meanwhile, received so many hits this year that we exceeded our bandwidth in November (and I had just increased the bandwidth this year) and we were on pace to exceed it before the second week of December as well.  I quickly located a new, high-bandwidth provider and now have plenty of bandwidth and more space for things like videos, which we’ve never been able to do before due to space and bandwidth issues.  I’m still committed to keeping this site ad-free (other than our Amazon associate stuff) but a colleague of mine has Google Adsense on his site and raised enough to buy 2 computer controlled lighting boxes.  Kinda makes me wonder if I should sell out, lol…

I’ve been scoping out the after-Christmas sales but don’t have any concrete plans for next year yet.  Once again we don’t plan to dramatically increase the size of the display any time soon, so most the stuff we buy will be replacement lights (several trees need replacing as they are fading noticeably) and some other small displays.  Some of my plans for 2005 which didn’t happen will hopefully make it onto the 2006 plate, but I’ll get into that more in my next entry, which will probably be the last for 2005.  Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and has a great New Year’s celebration!

1/1/06:  Happy New Year!  Well the display season is over.  We went outside to view it one last time in the car, right before it shut down for the night.  Earlier, we had William out in the display to shoot some pictures and video.  Unfortunately he’s not feeling the greatest, so he wasn’t as happy as he should have been surrounded by all the colorful flashing lights and displays.  Normally he gets excited looking at the indoor ceiling fixtures and stuff, lol.

This has been overall a much happier season than last year, where we fought the weather and other nasty forces.  We scaled back our hours to try to keep the neighbors happy — I hope it worked.  Traffic never seemed problematic and I monitored it VERY closely this year.  We keep hearing stories about how people make a family tradition to come see our display and listen to the music and watch the synchronized lights.  Making people happy while spreading the Good News of Christ’s birth — that, my friends, is why we do it.

I Went to Target earlier tonight and picked up enough lights to replace the strings on our three largest trees, which are fading.  I have enough in storage actually, but at 75% off I figured it was a no-brainer to pick up some new ones and keep the others (also bought on clearance) for another project or replacement someday.  I had hoped to find the new LED lights on clearance but no such luck.  Actually I’m hearing about problems people are having with them, and so I might just want to wait a few more years anyway.  They’re still darned expensive too.

Tomorrow I have a couple folks coming over to help tear down the display, in return for seeing how it’s all done.  Hopefully we’ll make quick work of the teardown.  The storage I’ll mostly have to do for myself, as I go through every string, check every bulb, replace the dead ones, make all strings work again, etc. etc.  It’s very tedious, but it has to be done in order to do a display again next year…

As for thoughts for 2006, I’ll save them for my first post in the new 2006 log, to be coming very soon!  Thanks for a great season everyone and we’re so happy to be a part of your Christmas tradition.

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